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Opposition criticises Govt's delay in tabling anti-gang bill

BY BALFORD HENRY Senior staff reporter

Monday, February 17, 2014    

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Opposition spokesman on National Security Derrick Smith has accused the government of unnecessarily delaying the tabling of the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organisations) Bill since 2012.

Smith, who was speaking in the debate which started in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, said that in addition to delaying the tabling of the bill in Parliament, the government also included new, controversial provisions which were opposed by the Opposition and civil society, creating further delays.

"It is not unreasonable to suggest that the government has delayed this Bill for two years for no good reason," he said.

"I would really like the minister (national security), when he comes to close this debate to tell this House and the nation, what was the real reason why an important bill as this was delayed for almost two years," he suggested.

Smith said he also wanted answers as to whether or not the clauses injected since the change of government did not add to the controversy and the delay, and whether the Minister of National Security Peter Bunting thinks that it was worth the delay, in light of the fact that murders rose by 10 per cent while the country awaited the bill.

Smith said that he raised the point, because he has heard suggestions that the Opposition was deliberately delaying approval of the bill in Parliament.

"This is obviously totally untrue. In fact, we have given support on virtually every section of the bill, except for those clauses which we feel would threaten the human and civil rights of our citizens," he said.

Smith said the bill is primarily aimed at dismantling criminal gangs and curtailing the high incidence of crime and violence in Jamaica, which was exactly its objective when it was originally introduced by the previous government in 2011.

However, he said that with the changes made by the current government since taking office in January 2012, the Opposition has found itself having to join with human rights and civil society institutions, as well as the Norman Manley Law School, in objecting to provisions which could infringe the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He said that the Opposition was happy that the process was now at a stage where the police can be assured of a bill which can assist them in tackling the scourge of criminal organisations operating in the country, with more authority.

However, he said that the government needed to understand that the bill was not a remedy for crime and violence, but a step in the right direction.

Smith urged the government to make special note of the submissions made to the joint select committee by the Jamaica Constabulary Force, which included the presentation of statistics to show that between 1999 and 2012, over 12,000 illegal firearms and 170,000 rounds of live ammunition were confiscated by the police from criminal elements.

"We must seriously consider how we are going to plug the loopholes through which weapons and ammunition are flooding our country, and are so readily available. This must be a matter of concern, because we are not producing either weapons or ammunition in Jamaica," Smith said.

The debate was opened by Bunting who outlined the context in which the bill had become necessary, and gave a clause-by-clause description of the provisions.

The debate is expected to be concluded when the House meets tomorrow.

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